Businesses of all sizes rethink benefits packages to match challenges in employees’ lives
The book on employee benefits has started a new chapter. Employee expectations have shifted and risen as the marketplace has changed.
To stay relevant, companies of all sizes are rethinking benefits packages. That might mean scaling back in some areas while bolstering others, experts say.
Karen Jedrysek is market human resources director for Northwest Health and is responsible for all HR functions within the health system.
Since taking on the role, she said the organization has placed an emphasis on streamlining its systems to ensure they’re fully serving both patients and staff. In other words, happier staff tend to translate to better patient outcomes — a point Jedrysek and her team take seriously.
Reducing out-of-pocket costs
For instance, the rollout of the Northwest Health Pathways program means an expansion of benefits to team members, specifically reimbursement for license and certification renewal as well as partnering with a third-party vendor to assist with contributions to student loans.
“A lot of our positions require a state license or a variety of certifications to be able to provide quality care to our patients,” she said. “And so, purchasing or paying for those renewals are costly endeavors. So that’s a really great benefit expansion — to assist with controlling out-of-pocket expenses — as things get costly in our world.”
According to Jedrysek, these costs can add up fast. Some professions require certification as a barrier to entry, while others make a candidate more attractive for a promotion.
Either way, having financial assistance can make a meaningful difference to employees and their finances.
As for the student loan contribution, Jedrysek said the health system is able to contribute to payments on team members’ loans, while at the same time negotiating a reduction in their principal.
That means they’ve been able to help staff pay their loans off faster, she said.
Speaking of education, Jedrysek said Northwest Health has increased the contribution amount in their tuition reimbursement program.
“We’re really supporting lifelong learning and being able to … partner with … some colleges to allow for our team members to defer payment for their classes and or their textbooks and those types of things,” she said. “So, in that way, again, there’s a limited or no out-of-pocket (cost) if they’re currently in school and attempting to achieve a degree.”
Beyond the cost-saving benefits, Jedrysek said she’s equally proud of the relationships they’ve forged in the process of expanding their package.
“I think the thing that I’m most proud of is being able to have as many partners that we have locally,“ she said. “And when I say partners, examples could be our schools or our colleges, as well as our child care providers within our Region.”
That means supporting local businesses, but also supporting team members who have family obligations, Jedrysek said.
Jedrysek said these efforts tie back to a key point: caring for people holistically. While physical health has long been a focus at many organizations, you can’t discount the power of investing in mental health, too.
That’s why they have an employee assistance program that allows for on-site mental health resources.
“We’re making it easier for our people to access that,” she said. “Right now, there are delays in getting into a therapist. We can eliminate that and essentially cut it in half by having routine days for the providers to be on site.”
Another on-site benefit is their wellness program, although Jedrysek said it has been met with mixed reviews. For example, they offer daily walks at two different times throughout the workday.
People haven’t taken advantage of this perk as much, because many want to come to work, and they want to go home,” she said. “And so, making it so that it’s built into our culture of caring for ourselves has been a little bit of a challenge.”
Preserving employee benefits
Dawn Reynolds Pettit is no stranger to challenges of her own, as vice president of human resources for Hard Rock Casino Northern Indiana in Gary. She has noticed that what worked benefits-wise last year might not work this year and the year after.
“If you’re a company that understands that the needs of your team members change with what’s happening in the world or in their community or in their own backyards, and you want to be able to provide them a whole wellness perspective, you should be constantly looking at your benefits and what you’re offering,” she said.
Reynolds Pettit offered a specific example that recently has received national attention in the HR world: financial wellness. In her words, financial health touches all areas of a person’s life.
While a worthy endeavor, Reynolds Pettit said their approach to promoting financial literacy at Hard Rock missed the mark. They had financial advisers come on-site to speak with team members about topics like budgeting, managing finances and paying down debt.
“While I think it was a great program, I also found out that’s a very private thing to … ask individuals to come into a room with their fellow co-workers and talk about their finances, even in general,” she said. “That’s not something that people are comfortable with.”
Instead, they now offer phone consultations with a financial wellness adviser. This means they can allow for some confidentiality and some privacy when it comes to such sensitive matters.
Reynolds Pettit hopes it will drive interest and increase participation.
She is optimistic for a similar outcome with their initiatives to promote physical health. Though, they’re looking at different ways to approach the perks after interest in on-site Zumba and yoga classes was lacking and perhaps didn’t resonate with the group.
“We’re looking at evolving (those benefits) and maybe doing something different, where we’re offering discounts to places that they can go, whether it’s to Zumba or a yoga studio,” Reynolds Pettit said. “So, we’re exploring different ways (to promote healthy habits).”
A robust benefits package or not, Reynolds Pettit said it’s incumbent on HR leaders to do a better job of communicating with their people.
“We’re able to best provide a great place to work because they know that we care about them and because they know we’re willing to invest in them in any way that we can,” she said. “And sometimes, it’s just taking the time and offering an ear to listen.”
Beyond the individual
Megan Nail, vice president of the Total Rewards practice of First Person Advisors in Indianapolis, said knowing your audience is key to offering benefits that are relevant and impactful. In her role, Nail advises clients on how to meet their organization’s goals through total rewards and compensation strategy.
When it comes to the benefits part of the equation, she said forward-thinking organizations adapt with the times and offer benefits that meet the needs of all types of families. For instance, she said some of the benefits she’s seen her clients offer include assistance with family planning, whether that be through traditional means, via fertility services, surrogacy or adoption.
These perks can be especially appealing to younger workers, who might not be as excited about traditional perks like health insurance. At the same time, more novel benefits like unlimited time off, aren’t always popular either.
On the surface giving people more time off can seem like a good thing, but Nail said companies need to also be mindful of the expectations, too.
“If the workload is so high that people feel like they can’t actually take the time off, that can be seen very negatively,” she said. “And so, some of the creative things that we’re seeing to combat that is to schedule flexibility.”
For instance, she said some companies are adding additional holiday hours, so people feel like they can truly rest without having to log on. In other words, the company’s culture must prioritize well-being on all fronts or else the perks might fall flat.
Happiness by design
This balancing act is something that Nicole Fallowfield, director of administration at South Bend-based Gibson, knows firsthand.
Her company made the list of Best Places to Work in Indiana in 2021, and she said that’s by design not luck. Employee surveys reinforce this distinction.
“The surveys indicate that people feel psychologically safe; they feel free to be themselves at work; they’re not afraid to offer up suggestions; and they feel heard — all of which contributes to a highly engaged workforce,” Fallowfield said. “This, in turn, helps to deliver great service to our clients.”
One way they’ve listened to their employees is by offering a work-from-home grant program, which rolled out in the early months of the pandemic. This meant staff were able to purchase equipment to be able to work from home and get reimbursed.
And like Northwest Health, they’ve upped the ante on mental health parity. “One of the things we did fairly early on (in the pandemic was) increase the number of counseling visits available for our employees,” she said. “So, we went from six in-person visits to 12. And we continued to maintain the number of face-to-face visits with the counselor.”
On a practical level, Fallowfield notes Gibson also provides financial assistance for professional development. Insurance is a highly regulated industry, so technical expertise and qualifications are necessary. Gibson helps soften the burden with funds earmarked for this purpose.
Fallowfield said all these facets make Gibson an attractive employer, but the fundamentals are also still important.
“I’ve heard from numerous employees who talk about the communication from the leadership team, from their managers, and how they really appreciate feeling like they’re in the know,” she said. “We’re a very transparent organization, and so we share with our employees every quarter, how we did as a leadership team and if we met our goals for the quarter.”
Click here to read more from the August-September 2022 issue of Northwest Indiana Business Magazine.